Dining at Disney: Is the dining plan right for me?

For anyone staying on property at Disney World, it’s the million dollar question, “Is the dining plan right for me?” Although much debate has gone on about it, and it is personal preference, I would in general say “No.”

The idea of a prepaid plan is appealing. It provides an all-inclusive feel to your vacation, and who doesn’t love that? I would argue, the convenience of the plan ends there.

Top 5 problems with getting a Disney Dining Plan:

  1. Too much food. Each meal voucher includes a drink, meal and dessert. (You used to be able to get an appetizer and that is no more.) That’s for adults and children. I don’t know about you, but I usually don’t eat dessert with every single meal, and if I do it’s often not right away. Desert is $5–8 of every meal.

    I also don’t get a soft drink with every meal, I drink a lot of water, especially in hot Florida weather. In addition, I often share a beverage with my husband at fountain stations.That’s another $3 at every meal that you may not be spending.

    If you have smaller children, the food vouchers may give them way too much food when they could just as easily eat off your plate for “free.”
  2. Too many snacks. It’s true, Disney has a ton of delicious snacks. A snack voucher is included each day. Many who have the plan end up with a ton of snack vouchers at the end of their trip because they are simply too full for snacks with their meal vouchers.
  3. Too many reservations. If you purchase the second tier of dining, it includes one table service meal per day. With the popularity of the dining plan, reservations are a must. That means you need to plan where you are going to eat ahead of time which locks you into certain parks on certain days. This rigidity may not work for you if someone in your party is having an off day, or it’s raining, or any number of other unpredictable things that can happen on your trip.
  4. Too high value for your choices. Unless you go to a character meal every day, or eat strip steak every night it is highly unlikely you will get the maximum value (or save money) by being on the Disney dining plan. Disney counts on this, and that’s why they make money on your dining. Vegetarians will never be on top with a dining plan. The exception to this rule may be super hungry teenagers.
  5. The allure of ease and convenience is actually an illusion. If you are trying to maximize the value of your meal plan (and you should) you may end up doing math with every order to make sure you’re getting a good deal. Booking so many dining reservations ahead of time also adds a lot of complexity to a trip. 

    Adding to the convenience/complexity quick service (ie take away) vouchers can actually be broken into three snack vouchers. This may sound crazy given what I said above about surplus snack credits, but it’s a good option if you’re trying to maximize touring (rather than sitting and eating) or you want to use your snack credits at the famous EPCOT Food & Wine Festival or the EPCOT Flower and Garden Festival (aka the mini Food & Wine Festival) where snacks can climb in price in upwards of $8.

In the end, you need to make the best choice for your family. Often that means running the numbers and adding it all up, a notably tedious, but necessary task. I figured out that for the most part (sans special character meals) our family can eat two meals in the parks for around $50 a day. Considering the cheapest meal plan starts at $40 per person per day that’s a big gap, that even with splurging a few times on “big meals” (character meals, fancier sit downs) it still isn’t worth the dining plan.

Tap into the convenience of a wallet-free Disney experience, and plan on loading up your MagicBands with Disney Gift Cards so food will essentially already be pre-budgeted. Voila, an “all inclusive” feel without the expense of the dining plan. A win-win.

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